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Reading Mix Challenge, Part Two

Added another list to the last post: Being Normal/Being Weird. Nonfantasy YA with fantastical elements, acid trips optional, may not be suitable for assigned age group.

Some more lists here. These're more generic than the other ones. (Did I make the dealine? Please say I made the deadline.)

WITH lacewood: Alternate Europe Historical Fantasy
In other words, Victorian/Edwardian Fantasy.

Caroline Stevermer, A College of Magics.
lacewood says: Sequel: A Scholar of Magics. Faris Nallaneen's uncle ships her off to Greenlaw, a French finishing school/college, where she can't be in his way before she reaches her majority and takes over as Duchess of Galazon. But destiny, not to mention the mistakes of past generations, is waiting for Faris whether she likes it or not - along with friendship, romance, duty and magic.

Caroline Stevemer and Patricia Wrede, Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot.
lacewood says: Sequel: The Grand Tour (which I haven't read yet). Written as a letter game, two friends, one in London and another in the country, write letters to each other about their varied adventures as they get embroiled in the plots and machinations surrounding, of all things, a silver chocolate pot...
sub_divided says: I have read the sequel, it isn't as good but it is amusing. In The Grand Tour, Cecilia and Kate and their two husbands, Thomas and James, are together on vacation in Europe when they stumble across a plot to use old magic to create a new Emperor. Since Cecy and Kate are together, their chapters aren't always letters, sometimes they are journal entries or personal notes. Stevemer's contributions to this book are much better than Wrede's, sadly. The ending is also not as good but I am still amazed, just like I was by Sorcery and Cecila, by how neatly loose ends are tied up. These are improvised novels! Amazing. Each of these books is great for the psuedo-Victorian writing style, the romance-novel subplots (later: newlywed subplots), and the complicated mystery main plot which is neatly resolved at the end.

Patricia Wrede, Mairelon the Magician
lacewood says: Sequel: The Magician's Ward. I think it is definitely cheating to have SO MUCH Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer on this list, but er. It's not my fault they sort of SPECIALISE in a niche market? XD A street thief is hired to steal something from a travelling magician, only to get caught and dragged willy nilly into his problems. And wait - is he just a travelling fake?
sub_divided says: If I had to pick one Patricia Wrede book to put on this list, this would be it. Kim is a girl who dresses like a boy, Mairelon is an extremely rich, extremely absent-minded gentleman magician/former gentleman spy who finds her trying to break into his trunk during the middle of his street magician act XD. He hires her because she is really good at picking locks, and they head off together to recover the pieces of a silver service set to clear Mairelon's good name (he was accused of stealing the thing several years before). Along the way, he teaches her how to read and speak properly, and she teaches him how to pick locks. Mairelon is such a great character. Kim is too. I fully support Mairelon/Kim, one of many reasons why the sequel makes me so, so, so, so indescribably happy.

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
lacewood says: I will not believe you have not heard of this book before, wot. XD It is the age of the Napoleonic Wars, but more importantly for some, magic is returning to England in strange, even terrible ways...
sub_divided says: Looooove this book. It's written in a fake-historian style, with author commentary and many, many footnotes. In this version of Europe, a powerful magician called the Raven King once ruled Northern England. His impact can still be felt in the stories people tell each other, and the scholarship of gentlemen "magicians," who are not magicians who "do magic" (there is no more magic in England) but who only study it. However! Two real, genuine, honest-to-God magicians appear: the crotchety, suspicious, petty and meticulous Mr. Norell, and the young, careless, sociable and naturally gifted Jonathan Strange. Although they are nothing alike, the two are bound together by their common obsession with magic. There is an ominous prophecy...I like the fairies in this book, they're alien and violent.

Naomi Novik, Temeraire or His Majesty's Dragon
lacewood says: Followed by Throne of Jade and The Black Powder War, which I have not read/are not released yet. I am pretty sure most of my flist has heard of this too? XD The Napoleonic War... with dragons. A naval captain finds a potentially illustrous naval career cut short when a chain of incidents make him the bearer/rider of a, intelligent, powerful young dragon he names Temeraire.
sub_divided says: Master and Commander fanfiction with dragons XD. His Majesty's Dragon is light on historical context -- although there's a bit about Naval life and the chain of command -- but heavy on the details of dragon-care and dragon-combat and dragon-training and dragon-economics and AHHHH, DRAGONS. Intellegent dragons! Temeraire is darling, and Lawrence dotes on him like woah. The second book in this series, Throne of Jade, actually has more historical context, for all that it is set in China. Parts of that book made me laugh because they were like something straight out of my Introduction to Modern Chinese History class. Anyway, the way that dragons are fit into the alternate history of these books is really well done.

Steven Brust and Emma Bull, Freedom and Necessity
lacewood says: I think this might have been a letter game too. Given the number of characters involved though, I am kind of BOGGLED at how they pulled it off, omgz. XD A man wakes up with no memory of how he got where he is, while his relatives at home mourn him as dead. He sets up correspondence with his cousin and begins to investigate, but as the letters continue, we learn that he might not be being completely honest about his past, even as more and more people get involved, and some people quite definitely want him dead... The plot is so convoluted that I'm still not sure it makes sense on first read - I should probably try again. Engels makes an appearance as a minor character, philosophy and politics are argued as much as the mysterious circumstances, and with all this going on, the presence of magic is actually kind of minor? XD

Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chronicles
lacewood says: Usually I try to list the first book of a series, and then just mention the rest? But Wolves is a little scattered as a series (since it wasn't even INTENDED as one originally. Even the name is kind of random XD) so it's hard to pinpoint a particular book to rec. A series of children's books, it includes: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts at Battersea; the "Dido Twite" books: Nightbirds On Nantucket, The Stolen Lake, The Cuckoo Tree, Dido and Pa; the Is books: Is Underground, Cold Shoulder Road, and then three more Dido books that I haven't read yet: Limbo Lodge, Midwinter Nightingale and The Witches of Clattershaws... See why this was difficult? XD I would rec the first sequence of Dido Twite books, and Is Underground. I hear, tragically, that the later Dido books aren't very good though I haven't gotten hold of them yet myself, so. There is very little magic in the books (though there are slight elements here and there, just nothing concentrated), and the key point is that this occurs in an England where the Stuarts took the throne. Against this backdrop, Dido, a girl from a family of dedicated treasonists/Hanoverians, finds herself embroiled in a series of adventures to return to England/save the king by preventing outlandish plots to kill/dethrone him. Dido is so grate omg, the plots are INSANE and it is all so matter-of-fact that it is beautiful. I love these books, but NO ONE ELSE SEEMS TO. *weeps in corner* XD

Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass
sub_divided says: Compasss is the first book in Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, which is "modern classic" about the evil soulstealing power of organized religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular. In this version of Europe, every person has a companion spirit called a daemon that they can't be separated from -- actually, the daemon is a part of their soul. The main character is Lyra, an orphen who runs completely wild with the kitchen boys at Oxford. When it's found that she is the only one who can read a magical object called an "alitheometer" ("truthmeter"), she's shipped off to her estranged mother, a cold and cruel woman who happens to be behind the Church's experiments on children (they want to separate them from their daemons in order to discover the source of original sin). This is actually my favorite book in the series, because it's set in AU England and because I enjoy reading stories about convincing liars (which Lyra most definitely is).

Jonathan Stroud, The Amulet of Samarkand
sub_divided says: Woe! I am abused and everyone hates me! Is the theme of the first part of this book, about a magician-in-training named Nathanial who's been sold to the government as a sacrifice, only to mistreated by his callous official guardian. Feverishly researching his revenge, Nathanial summons the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to steal the powerful amulet of Samarkand (in this version of London, a magician's power is measured by the level of djinn they can command). Half the book is from Bartimaeus' point of view, with footnotes. Pretty funny.

British YA Fantasy VS The Arabian Nights
This list is about cultural appropriation. Listed authors write primarily very British fantasy (although Faulker is an American), but all of them read the Arabian Nights and were inspired to set at least one book or part of a book in that setting.

Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword (a warm-fuzzy version of Bristish imperialism)
Not Nights-based, more like...establishing a context in which it is okay to appropriate another country's literature. My first reaction to this book was errrr fluffy colonialists? The Homelanders in this book are the kindest, more "we’re good people at heart, even our prejudices are endearing" version of English settlers you will ever see. The heroine, who is too tall and too independent and too poor to marry well despite her obvious intelligence and good sense, is sent to a remote outpost, where she falls in love with 1) the desert, and 2) a psychic desert prince who has gold eyes and is taller than her.

Richard Burton, The Arabian Nights (the inspiration)
Burton's creatively translated version of the Arabian Nights -- which includes many stories not present in the original Nights, for example Aladdin and the Magic Lamp and the Seven Voyages of Sindbad -- inspired countless imitations, some in the spirit of the original and some, er, not. (Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story called The 1002 Night where Shaharizad kills herself at the end, for example.) A much more accurate translation is Haddaway's, but we are not talking about accuracy here now are we.

C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy (third in Narnia series, a standalone)
Been a while since I read this. The Muslims in Lewis' Narnia books are sort of problematic -- meaning, they're evil -- but you don't see that so much in this. A poor slave boy named Shasta escapes from his father, who is not really his father. He meets an intellegent talking horse named Bree. Shasta makes his way to Narnia, outwiting many evil adults along the way. He's helped by the horse and a girl whose name I can't remember (Aravis) and her talking horse Hwin.

Dianna Wynn Jones, The Castle in the Air (carpet-seller rescues princess, aided by characters from the author's previous book)
This book is so much fun. Hapless carpet-seller embarks on a quest to save the girl of his dreams, a princess he met thanks to a magic carpet, who has been taken prisoner along with many other princesses from all over the word. On his journey, he bumps into Sophie and Howl, the main characters in the book to which this is a sort-of sequel. I think my favorite part was the authentic arabian dialogue (tm), which Wynn Jones claims is full of ways to be unfallingly polite while meaning something else entirely.

John Faulkner, Moonfleet (Sindbad the Sailor)
Faulkner does not beling on this list in the same way that The Voyages of Sindbad do not belong in the Nights. This book, like Burton's translation of the nights, is in the public domain, so you can read it online. I, umm, can't say that Moonfleet is good exactly, but it is interesting and filled with strange and miraculous things.

Recommended by apintrix, but that I haven't read myself:
Llyod Alexander, The Jedera Adventure
Llyod Alexander, The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha
Tanith Lee, Unicorn series (not apintrix; I read these myself but it was so long ago that I may be hallucinating the content)

You're in the Army Now -- In the Future
You can read these books on two levels. One is the level the author intended, as either critique or praise of militarism and the military mindset. The other is pure cool factor. Awesome, we have laser guns and Strategy!

Robert Heinland, Starship Troopers (the world would be a better place if only we all had super-cool robotic armour)
According to the author:
Military societies are good! They teach discipline! Only those who serve in the army should have the vote! Highly-training infantry will always be needed, because sometimes it is just not desireable to blow things up from space! Being in the infantry is an exciting job that forms unbreakable bonds between men!
But really I read it for:
The boot camp scenes and Riko's waaaay cool space suit. He's like Inspector Gadget! I also like reading about a society where this sort of military facism works, although I don't believe it's possible in the real world (or anytwhere outside of Heinland's mind, in fact). I also like the movie, which is an anti-militarism parody of the book, and its sequel, which is a video game.

Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game
According to the author:
Children who are taken away from their parents and sent into space to learn to do terrible things will often to terrible things to each other, and adults are less able to stop this than they imagine. Also, it's a child's kind of fantasy to believe that the best solution to war is to reach the enemy's home planet and blow it up.
But really I read it for:
Ender Wiggin being a genius, mock-battles, "the enemy gate is down." Because I am with the author on the childishness of video-game endings, I actually do prefer the later books in this series, where Ender is an adult and the situation is more complicated -- but most people like this one the best, again because of the video-game ending.

Joe Haldeman, The Forever War
According to the author:
Coming back from the Vietnam war, to find that everything's changed, is a lot like coming back from an intersteller war after decades of light-speed travel to find that overcrowding has forced everyone on the planet to become homosexual.
But really I read it for:
Do I even need to say? I get that Haldeman is using science fiction to make a statement about the alienating effects of war, but his vision of the Worst Future Society Ever is just so bizarre and fascinating and gay.

Gloria Skurzynsky, Virtual War
According to the author:
Ever since we got rid of war by turning into a contest between two three-man teams of genetically-engineered teenagers, the world has been a much better place -- but isn't a shame that natural resources are running out, and that these poor kids have to grow up with their whole lives devoted to training for some stupid game?
But really I read it for:
You know, if after being trained for my whole life I could do the kinds of things the kids in this book can do, I really don't think I'd mind. They're cool. The war they are training for is not so bad. YA, so this is a quick, fun book to read.

Poetic and Heartbreaking
I'm not sure how to order this one. Anyway, they are books written by auhors who are also poets or who write poetically (Murakami is an exception to this); they deal with psychologically dark themes, often mental with illnesses, in realistic ways; many are autobiographical or semi-autobiographical.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
About the year when Plath turned twenty, and began her long long long and ultimately futile battle against depression. The great thing about this book is that the author is so honest. She doesn't editorialize at all, she says everything she (or: the character who is a thinly-diguised version of herself) is thinking, no matter how trivial. A very sad book, particularly if you know what happened to Plath afterward.

Arunhati Roy, The God of Small Things
About two twins, a girl and boy, who grow up in Kerala, India in the 1960s. Their mother is abusive, but this is because her father was abusive, but this is because his family used to be rich landowners and now they are struggling pickle-factory owners. This book is written beautifully. It is full of passages that sound great when read aloud or that perfectly reflect the mental state of the narration character, sort of like James Joyce. And Roy's insights into the many, many ways to cause damage to the human psyche are amazing. All of the characters in this book are damaged in some way, except maybe the one who dies.

Anne Green, Fugitive Pieces
About a Jewish boy living in the Greek countryside during the Holocaust. Like Sylvia Plath, Anne Green is a professional poet, and this book is full of beautiful imagery. The scenes between the boy and his benefactor are also very touching.

Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
The author's memoirs, told backwards like Momento. At the start of the book, Julia has just returned to the family estates in the Dominican Republic, she thinks for good. By the end of the book, the reader thinks is probably won't be for good after all. Some of the chapters are about her sisters or parents, not her; but all of them are just a little off. The writing in this book is all over the place, almost every chapter is in a slightly different style -- but overall it's brilliant, very funny and moving.

EM Forester, A Passage to India
There's a kind of dread overhanging everything in this book. Ordinary things, meaningless things, become terrifying; every step is a chance at a misstep. The main plot is of an inexplicable and potentially fatal muddle between educated Indians and British colonial administrators in Chandrapor. (“Muddle” is favorite word of the author.) E.M. Forrester was an army officer in India, he condemns the occupation in very beautiful language. A large part of why I read books-in-translation is to avoid clichéd writing; this book's better than a translation, because it’s got that same freshness of metaphor (courtesy of Indian English) but it since it was written by a native English speaker, there’s no loss of meaning or awkwardness.

Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
Supposed to be his most autobiographical book. The main character in this book, an extremely aimless college student, is in love with a girl whose mental state is opaque to him. He sort of wanders through the chapters of this book, meeting various people, forming tennuous connections that aren't very important to him. Meanhile his relationship with this girl, who is depressed in ways that are never really explained, doesn't really go anywhere. What I like about this book is the sense of inexplicable mental illness, and the unemotional voice of the narrator.

Recommended by apintrix, but I haven't read them myself:
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse

Identity and Memory in Manga
This occured to me as I was typing up this post, so it's only a partial (and totally improvised) list, but I am too lazy to go back and edit the incomplete-lists post. Anyway, like the title says: memory and identity in manga. In (rough) chronological order by ending date.

Hiwatari Saki, Please Save My Earth
Classic shoujo manga, 21 volumes long. Seven alien scientists, some of whom have psychic powers, are reincarnated as seven human beings who sometimes dream about their lives on the moon. By getting together and comparing note, they are able to construct a partial timeline, but the more they remember the more they begin to repeat the mistakes they made in their previous lives. Alice, the main character, is convinced that she is not Mokuren and is determined not to remember her past life (it appears to have ended fairly traumatically). The plot's sophisticated, especially the way partial or biased stories need to be combined before you can get the full picture, and the characters are really, really nuanced, especially Mokuren and Shion.

Kuwabara Mizuna, Mirage of Blaze
Actually, this is a novel series. An untranslated novel series. But the first few volumes were made into a manga, which you can find here (the first three chapters, anyway. also, scroll down for the first volume of the novel series). Anyway, Mirage of Blaze is about historical figures from the Warring States period who are wandering around modern Japan possessing human bodies, for the most part so that they can continue the war. One of the main characters is the spirit of Uesugi Kagetsura possessing Ougi Takaya, but unlike the rest of the possesors he doesn't remember his previous lives (too traumatic). As his memories gradually start to return, Takaya rebels, because he considers Kegetsura a foreign personality and he naturally doesn't want to disappear. What he doesn't realize is that he is Kagetsura, even in a different body, even without Kegetsura's memories.

Youn In-Wan and Yang Kyung-Il, Island
Korean comic (manhwa) about racism and Japan's historical amnesia. If you're reading this manga and you think it's unfair, keep reading. ^^; Island is about a rich, beautiful, domineering woman who is sent to a remote island to teach high school, where she runs afoul of a serial killer/Buddist monk and a whole lot of sexually motivated Korean demons. The beginning is CLASSIC horror, but this only makes the end, about importance of memory in order to overcome the psychic wounds of the past which continue, unacknowledged and misunderstood, into the present, even more amazing.

Ohba Tsugumi, Death Note (drawn by Obata Takeshi)
Honor-student Yagami Light finds a notebook on the ground that he can use to kill anyone, at any time, in any way, as long as he knows the name and face of the victim. He decides to use it to create a new world filled only with the kinds of people he approves of. His biggest obstacle is the genius detective known only as L. Tight plotting, great set-up, genuine moral questions -- BUT FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD, STOP READING AFTER CHAPTER 58. Ahem. The part I'm thinking of is a subplot that starts about halfway through the first arc, in which Light for reasons I won't go into forgets all about the Death Note and his role as "saviour of the new world/criminal mass murderer" Kira. And his personality goes through this extreme shift, from one panel to the next he goes from sullen, delusional and evil to innocent, idealistic and long-suffering. Although the author may not have intended anything deep by this (SEE: CHAPTERS 59+) it still brings up all kinds of interesting questions.

Yun Kouga, Loveless
Of course this on the list. Ritsuka is a sixth-grade catboy who doesn't remember anything earlier than two years ago. People who knew him then and people who knew him now say that he has completely changed, but Ritsuka has no point of reference so he doesn't know. His mother is convinced that Ritsuka is not "her" Ritsuka, and she abuses him out of a combination of frustration and the desire to punish the person who took Ritsuka away. Ritsuka is seeing a psychiatrist, who tells him it's okay to be himself -- but actually Ritsuka wouldn't mind if he disappeared to make room for the real Ritsuka, because it would make his mother happy. I really like this series, um in case that wasn't already obvious.

YES DONE FINALLY. Suggestions welcome!


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 1st, 2006 06:02 am (UTC)
I love Patricia Wrede's YA books, they're so much fun to read! I even ended up going online and buying some of her super old Lyra novels, but they're not very good. The Raven Ring is the only good Lyra novel. Have you ever read it? I remember when I first read it years ago, my heart skipped a beat at a kissing scene. Bought it years later, and it's still very good.

If you liked Norwegian Wood, you might like Middlesex. It's an fictional memoir about a hermaphrodite and it's hilarious and sad.
Jun. 1st, 2006 06:16 am (UTC)
My father really liked Middlesex (because it is the sprawling tale of a Greek family living in Detroit ahaha). He's tried to get me to read it a few times, but that book is like 2,000 pages long (j/k, I've been meaning to).

The Raven Ring was the best one, but I liked Daughter of Witches too. The third one, about the lyre player or whatever, was the one I couldn't stand. It was interesting that she wrote these three verrrry different books all in the same fantasy world, though. I loved the appendixes at the end, all those fake histories written by fake historians.

Jun. 1st, 2006 06:22 am (UTC)
Are you Greek? I didn't realize it. (I remember your name being long when I was writing it down to send your cds, but I thought your name was Russian? Shows how little I know.)

I think I'm confusing Daughter of Witches and Caught in Crystal. Both were okay. But yeah, I hated that harp player one.
Jun. 1st, 2006 06:33 am (UTC)
My father was born in Greece, but actually his family is Macedonian. I do have a very Greek last name, though.

Caught in Crystal! That's the title. That one was awful. It wouldn't have been so bad, except that there are many, many better fantasy books about musicians with powerz (bards).

Jun. 1st, 2006 11:03 am (UTC)
Is The Forever War the one where he keeps going back into space and every time he comes back society has gone further ahead and he does this a ridiculous number of times? Because if so I think I read it. (I liked it even if I don't remember it very well...)

Also I have to disagree with you about The Bell Jar because it drove me crazy. She was completely unsympathetic and I didn't care about her which you can only get away with in a book with more than one character or much less of a focus on every stupid thing your main character does. /complaining (I was forced to read it, it made me bitter. *g*)
Jun. 1st, 2006 05:07 pm (UTC)
I believe we have had this discussion before! I liked because I sympathized even if I did not completely understand. Some passages were really beautiful. Although the middle third of the book, where she is really depressed, is less interesting than the parts before and after (because it is less comprehesible/relatable if you aren't depressed yourself), it isn't burdensome, and whole book is short and reads quickly. I've been forced to read much, much worse books than this.

Yeah, that's Forever War. I know he comes back a few times, but the time when everyone is gay (even his mother!) is the only one that really stuck in my mind.
Jun. 1st, 2006 06:58 pm (UTC)
We might have! I take all available oppertunities to complain about it because I hated it just that much. *g* I have a very low tolerance for characters that demand my sympathy right off the bat without making me interested first and by that point I was irritated enough that I didn't care if the writing was beautiful (which says soemthing about how much I disliked it because I like pretty writing) or if there were slightly less bad moments.

Well that's the really big change isn't it? The other ones are all "look we're on the moon!" and "look we've got a shortage of housing!" but the gay thing runs throughout.
Jun. 1st, 2006 10:06 pm (UTC)
We did. (I can't believe that was an entire year ago! Time flies.)
Jun. 2nd, 2006 01:32 am (UTC)
I can't believe it's been that long either! (But I am amused that we have basically reprised the conversation and that it's been almost exactly a year to within less than a week. *g*)
Jun. 2nd, 2006 03:04 am (UTC)
More reading material, particularly on the YA end. Thanks muchly!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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